“No, no, no, no!”
I screamed as I held my head in desperation while staring at our 4×4 completely stuck in the mud. My body trembling, my mind already flying, thinking about all the possible most tragic outcomes of this unlucky situation.
The time was around 3 to 4PM.
The location: Moremi Game Reserve, not far from the Mogogelo Hippo Pools.
Around five hours back we had woken up in the Savuti Camp in Chobe National Park and headed over to Moremi. On the gate we asked for the best areas to visit as we knew some parts could be flooded. We saw in our Tracks4Africa map that towards the South Gate there was a what seemed like waterholes, know as the Black Pools. They seemed worth checking out.
We began driving and quickly the dirt road become an almost unmarked grassy path. At some points it was hard to understand if we were actually following the road or not. We saw some zebra, but not much was around. We continued, longing to see hippos on the water. From afar, we saw what seemed like hippos and decided to get closer to them. We followed the map to get to the path that surrounded one of the pools and we saw four of them, resting in the water.
“Let’s go to the campsite now” we said.
We continued the path but noticed it was a bit muddy. We had got stuck and were rescued earlier that day so we both agreed. “Let’s turn back and go the other way”. But going straight was shorter, so we got off the car to look and try to find a dry patch. We found it, went forward and failed. We somehow ended up stuck in deep, deep mud and water.
And this is were the nightmare began
“We are stuck. Really stuck. There is no way of getting out of here without help” my boyfriend said.
“What are we going to do!!! No one is going to find us here” I screamed.
We were on the middle of freaking nowhere and it was now closer to 5 PM. No one was going to find us. As I said before, the path was barely marked. We weren’t even sure where it lead. It seemed to be marked in the map, but it was impossible to know for sure. The car was surrounded by bush. Even a few meters away, the car was already out of vision. Even someone 100m away could fail to see us.
We remembered that Hertz had included an option called “Hero” were they would rescue you from anywhere in case of emergency, by simply calling a phone number. When they pitched it to us, I quickly said: “But you don’t rent satellite phones and there won’t be any signal where we are going”. The Hertz rep responded that we could always call 999 (Emergencies) despite having no signal. He said he was sure it would work.
Lies, all lies.
We called 999 desperately, but nothing happened. I knew it all the time, but I just hoped nothing this terrible would happen.
I started digging water and mud from the wheels with the pots and pans we had on the car but I quickly realized it was useless and gave up. There was no way that the car was getting out of there without another calling pulling with a tow rope. No way.
So, we decided to pitch the tent and go to sleep as soon as the sun came down. We had enough food to eat semi-normally for two or three days, and for more if we were to ration it. Not everything was lost. We still hadn’t decided what our plan would be.
But, when we were setting up to sleep a visitor came by. It was a huge male elephant. His tusks were as gigantic as he was. He didn’t look happy to see us, he trumpeted and came directly towards our car.
“Get in the car” we both said to each other. The elephant was practically two meters from the car. I still hadn’t managed to close the door. I tried to do so as quietly as possible. Elephants can turn cars upside down with barely any effort. We were preparing for the worst, but he turned around and left.
The relief lasted two seconds and we were in no time discussing our options again.
“We will need to walk at some point” my boyfriend said.
As scary as it was, it was true. We could wait there but once food and water were gone, we would have to walk. Looking at the map, we calculated we were less than 10km on foot from the main dirt road were cars do circulate. There wouldn’t be tons but we would definitely expect to see at least one during the day. We were 20km on foot from the South Gate, where we knew help was guaranteed.
We started thinking about walking as something that would actually happen. The list of animals that could harm us was long: Elephant, Buffalo, Hippo, Lion, Leopard & Rhino… We knew that if any of them decided to attack us, we didn’t stand a chance. On one hand we were extremely scared. On the other hand, we remembered our bush walk in Kruger where the ranger, who always carried a gun, mentioned he only had to use it once, with a buffalo and that he thinks he could have avoided firing it.
We agreed that waiting at least one more entire day would be the most sensible. However, we both new that it was useless and that we would end up walking the day after anyways. So we decided to walk the next day.
I spent the worse night of my life.
The demons in my head wouldn’t let me sleep, making up a million different tragic endings to this story. I tried to get away from them but it was just useless. The variety of animal noises coming from outside which, except from the hippos, I couldn’t fully recognize didn’t help.
To make things worse, it started bucketing down outside. Rain would bring more mud and make the car more stuck. If there ever was hope of the mud drying out, it was gone.
We woke up when the sun came out. My boyfriend cooked a meal but the nerves twitching my stomach prevented me from ingest anything but water. We had to wait until 10AM which was the safest time to start walking as most dangerous animals are active at night, dawn and dusk. Leaving at 10 gave us enough time to make it to South Gate.
We took a small backpack with some water, food, phone and one wallet. We dressed as camouflaged with the bush as we could. A bread & kitchen knife on each of our hands.
And we started to walk.
Danger was close, as we saw hippos in that pool the day before. There was hippo poop and tracks everywhere. Hippos are the deadliest animals and responsible for most human deaths. This is because they are protective of their territory and if they think you are threatening to steal their pool, they won’t give you a chance.
We tried to get as far from the water as possible. We saw two hippos in the water but we had seen four the day before, so the others would need to be close. It was quite sunny and hot, so they would most likely be in the water. We could hear some hippo trumpeting so we proceeded with caution.
Once we had steered clear from the hippos, we stuck to the path, walking together sometimes holding hands in order to appear as big as possible.
We were constantly checking the tracks on the path to see what animals had been there and where they were going to. As it had rained, all tracks present were fresh. We were also constantly trying to find trees which would have decent height for us to climb up if we saw anything threatening.
We saw elephants but they were far far away so we weren’t in danger. On the next hour a few bird noises noises startled us, but we didn’t see anything other than impalas, who kept running from us. A few minutes later, we saw quite a big male wildebeest who did not take his eye off from us. Wildebeest aren’t dangerous unless they stampede. Just to be safe, we walked through as far from him as possible.
On the next hour we kept seeing lion tracks going to the same direction as we were.
We kept watching them to see if they stopped at some point, which meant they had gone into the bush and could be on our sides, but they kept going.
We had now walked more than one and a half hours and we were on the main dirt road. I could see fresh wheel tracks on the floor from what seemed to be two vehicles. We had missed them!
To be honest, the fact that nothing had happened so far had us a bit relaxed. We both realized this and kept prompting ourselves to stay alert. We were still in danger.
The walk continued. We saw giraffes on both sides of the road. Terrified from our presence, they run away. Every animal we run into and saw, was already aware of our presence and alert, even if they were miles away. Again, if something wanted to harm us, we didn’t stand a chance.
Suddenly, a rambling noise startled us.
It took a few seconds, but we could recognize it was a car. I put the knife down, breathed and waited. “We are saved!” I thought.
Our saviors were a lovely couple of Colombians who couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw us walking in the middle of the road. They made a space in their cramped 4×4 for both of us and told us we had been lucky, as they had just pass a buffalo herd. Let’s best not imagine what could have happened there!
They took us to our car which was probably 35 minutes away. Once there, they pulled it off the mud with a tow rope. It took a few tries and lots of force from their 4×4. We then drove back to South Gate and left Moremi. Later that day, what had happened hit me and anguish invaded my body. It took a few days to wipe the fear off.
How I survived? It was not because of skill.
The recently acquired knowledge on our organized safari in Kruger helped, but really, the odds were on our side. I’m disappointed with my poor planning. I should have done whatever possible to get a satellite phone. I didn’t take it seriously enough.
So if you read this and are hoping to go on a self-drive safari in Botswana soon, I hope my story has helped understand how wild things are out there. Despite this scare, I still loved and recommend the self drive experience in Botswana to all wildlings out there looking for some adventure, but I learned you really need to be prepared the hard way.
I’m really looking forward to go back, now to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, now with a satellite phone!
I do have to say, I am also happy that I am here to tell this story.
Note from author – this article complements other articles related to self-drive in Botswana which you might also enjoy: